REVIEW: Stranger of Sword City

Monday, June 27th, 2016

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Stranger of Sword City | oprainfall
Title Stranger of Sword City
Developer Experience Inc.
Publisher NIS America
Release Date June 6, 2016
Genre Dungeon Crawler Role Playing Game
Platform PC Steam
Age Rating ESRB – Teen
Official Website

As anyone who is a fan of the genre knows, or has read my reviews, there has been quite a Renaissance in the dungeon crawler RPG genre lately. While there have been a few notable examples from the West, such as Legend of Grimlock or Severed, most of the ones that I consider new classics come from Japan. Some of my particular favorites in the past few years are Dungeon Travelers 2, Demon Gaze, and the entire Etrian Odyssey series. So, this new title published by NIS certainly has its work cut out for it if it wants to impress me. This was once a neglected genre, and now it is one of the most popular game types around, especially on Steam and the beloved PS Vita. So the primary question of the review is, will it stand out in the crowd?

Stranger of Sword City | Opening

It’s a beautiful world. It’s a terrible world.

The first thing you’ll notice about the game, other than its beautiful art style, is that this story is set in a very interesting world. It’s seemingly an alternate dimension where all the common fantasy world tropes and all of the steampunk or technomancer tropes all exist at the same time. The Strangers are people who enter this world from our normal dimension and are given fairly extreme powers as a result. Think of the way that Superman gets his powers because his body is constructed for a different solar system. In addition, some rare Strangers can also be a Chosen One, which means that you can pick up the destroyed Blood Crystals from enemies and give them to Vessels to grow their power. Vessels are the leaders of the three factions in the world. Effectively they represent Good, Evil, and Neutral. Your plane crash landed in this world and you were apparently the only survivor. After you wake up, you are given the chance to create your character.

Stranger of Sword City | Character Creation

A robust character creation menu awaits you.

To Dungeons & Dragons veterans, the character creation menu will be largely familiar. You are given the choice of your Portrait, Gender, Age, Race, (starting) Job, Perk, Name, and you dice roll for stat point distribution. Your gender does not affect anything, likewise with looks and name, but some of the other ones are a bit different. Race affects your starting stats, as happens in most RPGs, but an interesting new mechanic is the effect your Age has here. The higher your Age, the more Stat points you can have to distribute. However, it comes at a great cost, because you have lower Life Points available. Life Points can go up to 3, and you will lose one every time you die. If all your Life Points go away, that character will totally disappear and you will lose them forever. This is only the first of many hardcore mechanics about this game.

Stranger of Sword City | Job Progression

By this time, she’s starting to become quite the powerhouse caster.

I also specified that it was only your starting Job. One of my minor complaints about this game is that it doesn’t do a good job of explaining some of the more esoteric systems. It tells you that you can change Jobs, but it doesn’t explain how it works or how important it is. If you are going to beat this game on anything but Beginner, you will need to change your jobs several times to pick up a variety of skills, and even on Beginner it is still very difficult to do without that. But the game never really tells you how important this is. Also, there are some interesting quirks to this class change system. You’ll notice in the above screenshot that the character has been a Wizard twice. When I changed jobs back to Wizard, I did not pick up where I left off. That has two repercussions. The first is that going back still counts as one of your six available class changes. And the second is that the level you are placed at is always half of your current level. So, if I changed back to Wizard from a Level 13 Dancer, instead of going to Level 14, I would have only been Level 6. So, you need to be wise about using it, but use it you should.

Stranger of Sword City | Party Selection

There are a lot of Strangers in the Guild, you will need all of them.

Another thing they don’t make totally clear, but you will quickly discover, is that you need a lot more than six party members. Your leader is the only one that you can never change out, the others you will likely have to do so frequently. When a character dies, they lose a Life Point, but you also don’t have any spells that can revive, and items that do so are extremely rare and extremely valuable. So you have to take them back to the guild hospital. There they will have to rest in bed until they revive. The standard is about four game days’ worth of time. The only way to pass that time is to fight battles. So, if you don’t want to be nerfed in your battles and struggle with them, you need to bring in a replacement. Thankfully, by creating new characters in standby, they will earn about half of the experience that your other characters do in battle. So, they will slowly be gaining levels, as well, and you won’t have to take a Level 1 character out to battle as a replacement. You could immediately resurrect that character, but that costs an insane amount of money; far more than I could ever afford. You can also gain back a life point by resting that character, but that takes even longer than resurrection does. One other bonus to creating a whole stable of characters is that they are training while in standby, and they earn a small amount of money each. That can add up to a decent stipend with every character slot filled. So, do yourself a favor and immediately fill every character slot when you get to the Strangers Guild.

More Strangers on Page 2 ->

About William Haderlie

Born in the 1970's, I've been an avid participant for much of video game history. A lifetime of being the sort of supergeek entrenched in the sciences and mathematics has not curbed my appreciation for the artistry of video games, cinema, and especially literature.

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  • Mr0303

    Even though I like dungeon crawlers like the ones mentioned in the review (Demon Gaze and Dungeon Travellers 2) I did not enjoy my time with SoSC.

    The game is grindy straight from the beginning. Even in the first couple of dungeons there are enemies that can one shot your characters. How to prevent this? Grind. The shop is completely useless – even one visit to a dungeon is not enough to buy a health potion let alone any useful artefacts. I also didn’t like the whole ambush mechanic, which is the only reliable way to get good rewards from a single dungeon dive – the boss can often escape depending on the number of minions he summons.

    Also the front-back row mechanic seems to be there just to detriment the player rather than be useful given how easily enemies can shuffle your party members’ positions. Same goes for when one of you party members is killed or stunned – the vulnerable archer/spellcaster goes straight into the line of fire.

    I’m all for challenge, but this game felt like a chore straight from the start and I dropped it soon after.

    • William Haderlie

      I can definitely see the merit of all your points. All those things are basically true. However, they can be seen as a feature rather than a hindrance. It’s not the most brutal Dungeon Crawler RPG that I’ve played, but it’s up there. It did get a lot more fun after the first 10 hours or so when I got into the pattern of it.

      I actually ended up really liking the Ambush mechanic, because I had much more control about when I fight the big baddies than in most other games of this type. And I could always just retreat if I got too big of a pull.

      But you are totally correct about always being around enemies that can wipe you, right off. The trick to that isn’t to grind, though. The point is that you need to use your Flash Escape Divinity if you can’t beat them. It only costs 5 charm and you can immediately gain that back in the next battle. So, yes, I thought this was a brutal one, I had to restart the game many times and had a lot of deaths, but I ended up really enjoying it.

    • Mr0303

      Perhaps you are right. Running from battles is not something I’m used to do when it comes to non-boss encounters.

      What annoyed me about the Ambush is that the boss monster can escape leaving you to deal with multiple minions for no reward.

      I’m sure at some point everything clicks and you can enjoy the game more (once you are powerful enough), but it failed to pull me in, so that I could dedicate the said time. Maybe someday I’ll get back to it.

  • Daymon

    Great review. I’m not entirely sure that I would like this game – I *love* dungeon crawlers, but this one sounds more like a chore than fun. I love a difficult crawler – Unchained Blades was fantastic, in my opinion – but when it feels like it’s brutal just to be brutal (which is the impression I keep getting from this game), it starts to take away from the enjoyment. I think I’m getting old.

    • William Haderlie

      That’s understandable, it is a large time investment. I did like it more than Unchained Blades, but it is a lot more difficult than that. Think more Etrian Odyssey challenge. These are definitely not for everyone, no matter how pretty it looks.

    • Daymon

      That might be part of my problem – I used to really enjoy those loooooong, hard games, but it’s been a while since anything other than Etrian Odyssey drew me in for way more time than I’d spend on any other game.

      As it stands now, Unchained Blades is about as difficult as I like to get these days, I think – frustrating at times, but never so hard that I want to stomp my poor handheld into pieces.